How to Furnish
Your Office

By William G. Schwab


You are starting or expanding your office. You need to furnish it.

My advice is to hire an consultant, but don’t assume they will do it all. Remember, this is your practice, not theirs, so you will suffer for any mistakes. A consultant should be able to give suggestions. (For a horror story about how things can go wrong, read my column, Old Man’s Words of Wisdom, in this issue.) Coordinate colors and styles.

First, make a list of how you operate or intend to operate. Determine what is unique about your office. In my office all of the lawyers stand to review finished work, which is placed on top of three fixed drawer file cabinets near the secretaries. We wanted small tables to enable collaboration between secretaries and lawyers when going over work. That is how we like to work, and it is efficient for us. Because of the nature of our practice, true file cabinet drawers break due to the weight of our shelves. We want fixed shelf lateral files. If this is how you operate, tell people three drawer files with fixed drawers are a requirement. If you have a vision of your library with 6- or 7-foot shelves, so you don’t need any wall decorations about the shelving, say so. Make a list of how you operate and what is important. The consultant should plan to meet your needs—not what he thinks your needs are. Think of where you will do filing, have the postage supplies, review work, assemble that big project, and so forth.

When you meet with our consultant, ask for a resume and references for similar projects. Tell him or her exactly how you operate and what you want. Put it in writing. Ask for suggestions, but don’t just accept their statements as gospel. Ask yourself “Is this how we want to practice law?”

Check and double-check the statement or invoice. Don’t make a mistake like I recently made, where I thought I was getting 6-foot shelves for my library and instead 60-inch shelves were actually ordered. I didn’t catch it, and now we have to decorate the wall area above the shelves, which is an unexpected added expense. If you know about what you want, show the consultant what it is from other vendor’s catalog. Make copies of what you give the consultant.

With my file cabinets, we specified fixed file shelves, but we couldn’t tell from the invoices they weren’t correct until they were delivered. That caused an office disruption as furniture came and went to correct the mistake. “Satisfaction guaranteed” is fine as a statement, but if your office is disrupted for three or four months, there is no amount of satisfaction guaranteed that can overcome the loss of productivity or income. Remember as a general rule of thumb that the time you lose today will be income you lose six months from now.

Here’s a short checklist to follow:

  1. Examine how you operate. Write it down!
  2. Look how your secretaries actually do their work. Is there a better way?
  3. Are there certain items that you would not want to change?
  4. Now talk to a number of office designers/consultants.
  5. Ask for references.
  6. Call references and see what mistakes were made and why.
  7. Hire the one with which you feel most comfortable.
  8. Tell the consultant how you operate and how you wish to operate
  9. Stress the nonnegotiable items.
  10. When a layout is presented ask questions. Do not order.
  11. Have the consultant come back and ask more questions. Do not order
  12. Without the consultant present, have everyone possible in your office from the receptionist to the custodian to the senior retired attorney review the suggested order for comments.
  13. Double-check drawings.
  14. Double-check sizes.
  15. Confirm in writing what you expect the end product to look like, e.g., uniform color and appearance.
  16. Order it.
  17. When delivery comes, be there.
  18. If something is wrong, tell everyone immediately. Don’t sign saying everything is fine before you do a complete inspection of every nook and cranny.
  19. Hope everything goes well.

—William G. Schwab, GPSolo New Lawyer Editor

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